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Sorrel's aroma signals Christmas

Published: Wednesday | December 17, 2008


Sorrel, our traditional Christmas drink, is really made from a member of the hibiscus family. For many Caribbean and Jamaican people, the season's meals are incomplete without this unique drink, and its aroma and taste signal Christmas. I grew up in rural Jamaica and sorrel picking was just one of the many Christmas traditions. Others included extensive bushing of the yard, burning of the year's junk, painting of the house, whitewashing of stones, picking of gungo peas and helping with the Christmas cake.

I preferred gungo peas picking to sorrel, as I was not scared of worms like my other siblings. The gungo peas pod left a sticky residue on my fingers but this was mild to the spikes left by the sorrel. We made sorrel flavoured with fresh ginger and red wine and, sweetened with brown sugar. Since adulthood, I have been exposed to sorrel made with a variety of spices - ginger, cloves, orange rind, and mint. Some of them are spiked with rum, wine or brandy. My favourite is fresh sorrel brewed strong with ginger and orange rind and a small amount of rum served over a lot of ice. I prefer my sorrel 'aged' for a few days before enjoying.

Ordinary meals seem to take on a festive taste when sorrel is served. Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is said to be native to India and Malaysia and was probably carried west to Egypt and East Africa by Arab traders during the Middle Ages and then later to West Africa.

Making sorrel drink

Use freshly picked and washed sorrel. Use just enough rolling boiling water to barely cover the sorrel in a plastic or glass container. (I prefer when the water and the sorrel are at the same level).

Add crushed ginger and other spices and cover. Brew and let steep for up to 24 hours. Strain and store in glass bottles. Sweeten a few hours before serving and add alcohol. Serve over cracked ice.

Sorrel is sold in the markets by small basins (about one pound). I have seen in the market, a variety with very large calyces and deep burgundy colour. Many people however, swear by the flavour of the 'old time' variety which has smaller calyces and is deep red.

Sorrel is not only a tasty and refreshing drink, but nutritious. The plant is rich in vitamin C, calcium and other minerals and antioxidants. It also has some amount of protein. The plant's medicinal value has been respected for centuries in Africa and Mexico where teas made from the calyces are traditional folk medicine treatments for a variety of ailments including high blood pressure.

To achieve a lower caloric intake, use less sugar and rum and serve in beautiful festive-looking glasses. Enjoy!

i> Rosalee M. Brown is a registered dietitian/ nutritionist who operates Integrated Nutrition and Health Services; email:


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